Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) Director: Rob Marshall
Despite the collapsing scenery of the previous two Pirates of the Caribbean films, producer Jerry Bruckheimer simply could not resist the allure of a winning franchise, and so Disney immediately began production on another sequel. The previous “trilogy” ended Gore Verbinski’s involvement in the project and he was instead replaced as director by Rob Marshall. The story for this film is very loosely based on a successful 1987 fantasy high seas adventure novel called On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. Apparently, this film was shot around the same time that Johnny Depp was shooting The Lone Ranger, one of the biggest box office bombs of all time.
In this fourth Pirates installment the story departs from the Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann narrative. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is captured following a botched attempt to rescue an old crewman while posing as an English judge. He is brought before the King of England (revealed to be King George II) for a different project. He is requested to find the Fountain of Youth before the Spanish can locate it. Jack’s old nemesis Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is apparently now an English privateer, has one leg, and will be leading the expedition. However, Jack escapes in dramatic fashion and immediately meets his father (again reprised by Keith Richards). Jack learns that an ex-lover named Angelica (played by Penelope Cruz) is recruiting a crew to find the Fountain of Youth. Jack also learns that Angelica’s father is the not-so-fearsome pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) who leads a zombie crew of pirates. They are all in search of the Fountain for various reasons (Blackbeard plans to undo a prophecy that he will be killed by a man with one leg). We learn that the Fountain works as follows: it is filled with mermaid tears and is consumed by two people at the same time, one is killed while the other’s life is extended (I am being terse here but there is really quite a bit more unnecessary complexity to it). At any rate, the crew captures a mermaid (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) who falls in love with a young missionary (Sam Claflin) -both are inane, lifeless characters- Barbossa reveals he is merely trying to gain revenge on Blackbeard for shrinking the Black Pearl into a tiny ship in a bottle, and they all battle with the Spanish who are trying to destroy the Fountain per Catholic blasphemy laws. In the end, Blackbeard dies so that Angelica can live, the mermaid drags the missionary underwater, and Jack abandons Angelica on a deserted island with a pistol and a single shot. She wastes her shot on Jack but misses as he rows away from the island. After the credits, a strange voodoo doll of Jack Sparrow washes ashore on Angelica’s island.
On Stranger Tides is a bit more cartoonish and slapstick than the ridiculous CGI explosions in the previous two films. At least there are not seventeen different sub-plots in this one. On Stranger Tides amusingly dates itself in historical context a century or two after Ponce de Leon’s expedition during the English vs. Spanish competition for the new world. It is, at least, a mildly entertaining movie but on the whole On Stranger Tides is a subpar celebration of mediocrity. Whereas previous Pirates films left audiences feeling desensitized and overstimulated, On Stranger Tides leaves audiences with a general feeling of numbness or indifference. With Disney’s decision to sink the ship of the Pirates franchise (pun intended) we are only left to wonder what could have been had they chosen to create a truly great swashbuckling high seas adventure movie in the modern era.